Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.

Numbers: 16 – When I think of this particular Scriptural reading, I am reminded of an old folk saying: “Those who think they can live without others are wrong. But those who think that others cannot survive without them are even more in error.” A rebellion ensues challenging Moses’ leadership. It seems that in the minds of the malcontents, Moses had control over all aspects of the people’s lives.

The purpose of challenging Moses’ leadership was to divide the people to affect rebellion and usurp the mantle of stewardship from the one who led them from slavery to freedom. He attempts to undermine the very fabric of law and holiness. It is a gamble that will have dire consequences and eventually cause the downfall of the hundreds of so-called aristocrats claiming that their prominence was, at least, equal to that of Moses and Aaron.

How many times have we seen this as we watch elected officials pervert the institutions established to enable society to benefit from the connectiveness required in order to have tranquility? We have recently witnessed greed and human suffering on such a large scale that we now experience unrest and uncertainty causing pain that seems to be unbearable.

Each generation has gone through its difficulties, but it appears that our upheaval is unmatched and surpasses anything before. Perhaps it is because we are more aware, have instant access to events, can communicate with the flip of a switch. In a matter of seconds, we are in touch with the whole world and beyond. Nothing is left to the imagination. Immediate gratification is the rule of conduct.

The rebels did not quarrel or command, but rather let their hearts dictate their actions. And these actions led to a revolt that ended in disaster because the intention was not pure, but rather a perversion of sanctity and sacredness. And, of course, the jealousy displayed because of the installation of Aaron’s family bypassing the Levites’ who then joined the rebellion as well, consumes them to the point where logic becomes clouded in hate.

We, too, encounter these feelings when we see people elevated to positions we believe undeserved. We witness bad things happening to good people, and we question the justice in their suffering. We blame God as some of the people blame Moses.

Ego and envy are the forces that controlled these demagogues. Of the two, envy is the most destructive in that you can look, but you will never see clearly and are blinded to reality. Ego, on the other hand, is consuming to the point that we consider ourselves to be indispensable. We don’t need other people, because we are all things wrapped in the mantle of insubstantiality.

Such were the events that led to disaster. The great attorney Louis Nizer was once quoted as saying, “When a man points a finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointed at himself.” While accusing Moses of incompetence and self-aggrandizement, these people were actually talking about themselves. Such are the times in which we live. Our fingers are poised to accuse, but we neglect to realize that, in so doing, we, in effect, accuse ourselves.

It is interesting to read the ancient words to realize that, as the great Yogi Berra so aptly remarked, “It’s like deja vu all over again.” Life has a funny way of repeating itself, and we refuse to learn from history as though it never occurred. What a sad commentary on humanities journey.

Politics and religion may not mix so well, but it is hard to imagine one without the other. We need faith to remind us of our moral responsibilities even as we attempt to lead. Otherwise we encourage rebellion and find that we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Is this where we are headed? I pray that this isn’t so.

Perhaps Yogi was right when he also said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”